As the CEO of a fledgling company, I routinely have to make decisions about things that can have far reaching effects on my company, my personal life, and my loved ones. Often (like, ninety percent of the time) these decisions have to be made with insufficient data, utilizing limited time and resources, in less than ideal conditions. Obviously, this adds to the stress of the decision making process, which is inherently stressful to begin with. How do I deal with this?
First off, a disclaimer: we are an early stage company, so the effects of decisions made now may not show returns (or failures) for months, or even years to come. This means I am no expert. I don’t know if the decisions I make now will be wins or losses. I am new to this whole entrepreneurial game and don’t have a huge track record behind me. That being said, I do have some life experiences, as well as a secret weapon that allows me to provide some strategies and advice to make the decision-making process less stressful and more sanity-inducing.
1. Gather as much information you can in the time allotted
Google, Bing, YouTube, and other internet resources are filled with advice and tutorials on everything from aardvark training to Zamboni repair. Take advantage of this. There is even a Ted Talk on, you guessed it, making hard decisions.
2. Take emotion out of it
Emotion clouds the rational mind with all sorts of extraneous data can paralyze and corrupt the decision-making process. Negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety, and anger can lead to poor or self-destructive choices. Positive emotions, like attraction to a sales person, optimism regarding an investor, or enthusiasm regarding your product can lead to snap decisions that are regretted later. Do your best to remove all these emotions and logically think through the consequences of all the alternatives, even the scary or maddening ones.
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff
As the CEO, you can be overwhelmed by minor decisions that really aren’t relevant to your true function in the company. Should you choose this IP provider or that one? Should you choose this vendor or that one? At the very early stages, when there are only one or two people running the company, these decisions may fall to you, but as your company grows, you need to delegate these decisions. Clear your mind and agenda
4. Listen to your subconscious
This may seem contradictory to number two, but it’s not. Your subconscious gathers a lot of data that you may not register consciously, and feeds it back to you in the form of intuition, gut feelings, and even dreams. If all of the logical data points towards one decision, but something in your gut keeps pulling you away from that choice, this is a great indicator that you need to do more homework. You may find with a bit more due diligence that a potential investor who looks perfect and is demanding a board seat has a history of mental illness and believes Satan visits him regularly. Do you really want to deal with that sort of investor on a regular basis?
5. Use a yardstick
This may seem an obvious part of the decision making process, and in many easy to make decisions it’s quite clear what decision to make according to certain metrics. But for the really difficult choices, the ones that can affect everything else along the line and transform or destroy a company, the yardstick for these choices is not always as clear. This is where your mission statement comes in. This is WHY you need a mission statement. It allows you to focus, to prioritize according to the values that are fundamental to your organization. This is the secret weapon to making big, difficult decisions: Values. When all else appears equal (whether equally good, or equally terrible), the thing that will allow you to walk away from that decision and sleep at night is choosing something that aligns with your values.